SAVANNAH - Georgia's busy seaports have continued to handle record cargo volumes in 2014 as the U.S. economy recovers, putting the Port of Savannah within close reach of a big milestone when the fiscal year ends next week, the Georgia Ports Authority's chief executive said Monday.
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the state agency that oversees the ports in Savannah and Brunswick, told the authority's board of directors that the ports moved a combined 2.63 million tons of imports and exports in May. It's the most freight Georgia's ports have seen in a single month - edging the previous record of 2.61 million tons reported in March.
The booming 2014 has Savannah on the verge of claiming another shattered record. The latest numbers show Savannah during the past 11 months handled more than 2.86 million cargo containers packed with everything from retail goods to frozen chickens. The Savannah port has never before surpassed 3 million containers in a single year. With fiscal 2014 wrapping up June 30, port officials say the milestone seems inevitable.
"We will exceed the 3 million mark for the first time," Foltz said.
It wasn't long ago, in 2006, that Savannah surpassed 2 million containers and vaulted past Charleston to become the fourth-busiest U.S. container port. For the past eight years, more containerized cargo has moved across Savannah's docks than those of any U.S. port other than New York, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.
South Carolina's State Ports Authority reported last week that its Charleston area terminals handled 91,948 pier containers in May, marking its busiest month since March 2007.
The SPA has handled 870,791 total containers through the first 11 months of its fiscal year that ends June 30, or 6.5 percent more from a year ago.
Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SPA, has said the S.C. maritime agency is seeing growth in part due to export markets. He has said that May's increase in cargo volumes was largely due to several ships calling on Charleston on the final days of the month.
"I don't predict a trend out of this," he said last week. "We're happy about it, but I believe the future is more conservative growth."
Erin Dhand, a spokeswoman for the SPA, declined to comment Monday about Georgia's performance, saying the agency speaks only to its results.
The recovering U.S. economy has fueled much of the growth at Georgia's ports this year, Foltz said. Georgia also has begun to benefit from contentious contract negotiations between West Coast port operators and the labor union for dockworkers whose contract expires at the end of June. Although negotiations are expected to continue past the deadline, shippers have begun rerouting some cargo to East Coast ports to avoid any possible disruptions. Foltz said Georgia started receiving some of that diverted cargo in May and will see more in the coming months.
James A. Walters on Monday was elected board chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority. He takes the helm just as a long-planned $706 million deepening of Savannah Harbor cleared its final bureaucratic hurdles in Washington this month. Foltz told board members the Army Corps of Engineers could have contracts for the massive project awarded by the end of December.
Tyrone Richardson of The Post and Courier staff contributed to this story.